Where the Credit Card Trail Leads
By KURT EICHENWALD -- THE NEW YORK TIMES
For almost six years, a little-known Internet company called Neova.net has been quietly processing credit card information for online businesses - among them, Justin Berry and other minors who operate for-pay Webcam sites.
Tracking down the company is challenging. Its Web site is just black-and-blue text on a white background, with little hint of the scope of its business. Its contact information shows it in London, but corporate records list its main offices in Boston, at an address for a private mailbox provider. And its server, the powerful computer that handles transactions and stores the business data electronically, is in California, Internet records show.
Just days after his decision to abandon his pornography business, Justin Berry accessed his operating account at Neova, downloaded the data of his for-pay Webcam site - including the names and credit card information of people who subscribed to his site - and provided it to The New York Times. Until then, Justin had never before known what kind of people paid to see an underage boy film himself in sexual situations.
"I really didn't want to know who they were," he said.
The names numbered more than 1,750; about 200, however, were customers who had signed up multiple times. The Times reduced the listing to a sampling of 300 people in eight cities and attempted to identify the adults who were paying to view child pornography.
In the analysis, The Times cross-referenced the names and locations of subscribers with publicly available records. Often, a name was traced to a company or organization through the subscriber's e-mail address. Subscribers whose identities were not clear, based on public information, were not counted in the sample.
Because of the possibility that some people whose information was on the list may have been victims of identity theft, and to guard the privacy of individuals, The Times is not publishing the names of adults whose credit card payments for Justin's sites were processed by Neova. The company and its principal, however, are targets of a federal investigation into online child pornography, according to court records and government officials; its customer records have been independently obtained by the government.
The detailed personal information accompanying the accounts indicates that virtually all of the customers subscribed using their real names. And the level of chargebacks - reversed payments that occur when customers dispute charges to their credit cards - was relatively low for the accounts, indicating that these subscriptions had in fact been ordered by the cardholders.
The analysis found that few of the subscribers fit the stereotype of online predators as people on the fringes of society. Instead, they included successful members of communities across the country, people whose education and language skills could help them win the trust of underage teenagers.
Of the 300 subscribers to Justin's site whose identities were checked, a large percentage were in professions that placed them in the proximity of children on almost a daily basis. There were pediatricians and elementary school teachers, as well as lawyers who represent children in court. But there were also subscribers whose careers seemed unrelated to children, including a public official in the West and the president of a privately held construction company who used his corporate credit card to sign up for the site.
Experts in the field of child sexual exploitation said such findings - particularly the prominence of adults having careers that placed them near children - were consistent with anecdotal evidence from law enforcement.
"These people go into these professions, like teacher and pediatrician, to get themselves close to kids," said Patrick A. Trueman, the former head of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department, who is now senior research counsel for the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative organization that promotes policies on marriage and family. "Their desires drive their careers."
Neova.net is not the only online company whose computer records contain the names and identifying information of people paying for child pornography; other large payment processors have had such sites as their customers. In some instances, the processors are legitimate corporations that unwittingly play a role in its dissemination.
A pornographic Web site (now defunct) called bigfunhouse, for example, was dependent on a global Internet payment processing company for handling its credit card billings.
For years, bigfunhouse - which portrayed itself as the most popular site of its kind in America and Europe - offered to members a free link to a second site featuring Webcam videos of boys who were lured into one or two online sexual performances, according to Internet records and customers interviewed by The Times.
E-mail traffic reviewed by The Times showed that, in June, the company that processed credit card charges for bigfunhouse - Verotel, which is based in Amsterdam - received a message purportedly from a teenager whose image was on the site; the message stated that bigfunhouse was carrying child pornography. Verotel - one of the largest credit card processors for Web sites offering digital content, which says it is strongly committed to combating child pornography - replied that it had investigated the claim and had become convinced that it was not true, the e-mail messages showed.
In November, The Times asked Verotel about illegal images, and the company responded that there were none on the bigfunhouse site. The Times provided Verotel with specific information about illegal images, including the identities of people who had been arrested for possessing the material. Verotel severed its relationship with bigfunhouse. Within hours, the pornography site shut down.
The bigfunhouse Web site then changed its message to "Game over. We closed."
Be warned Cyberpaths! Already had TWO of our cyberpaths' credit card trails followed by law enforcement, which led to the closing of a $2Million a year brothel. Another showed this cyberpath on multiple dating sites, scamming women for sex while emptying their bank accounts. Police are now online on TER and similar sites as well as doing forensic searches for cached files - which you can NOT delete - and which remain online in archival files forever.
Be careful what you put online and you DENY doing online. The truth is out there. Encoded & encrypted forever!